A waitress has taken prime minister John Key to task for repeatedly pulling on her ponytail when he visited the suburban Auckland cafe where she works, prompting Key to apologize.
“There’s always lots of horsing around and sort of practical jokes and that’s all there really was to it,” he told TV newscaster One News. Asked if his actions were appropriate, he said: “It’s a very warm, friendly relationship. In that context you’d say yes, but if you look at it now, no.”
Key’s office later said in a statement: “His actions were intended to be light-hearted. It was never his intention to make her feel uncomfortable and he has apologized to her.”
The anonymous waitress told a far different tale on a New Zealand blog, recounting a harrowing series of hair-pulling episodes, in which she repeatedly told Key to stop:
He was like the school yard bully tugging on the little girls’ hair trying to get a reaction, experiencing that feeling of power over her. I would think to myself, even a five-year-old could tell you that if you pull on a girls’ hair she will not like it, I shouldn’t have to tell the prime minister that I don’t like it when he pulls my hair—talk about stating the obvious!
After one hair-pulling incident, she wrote, “I felt powerless and tormented and I stepped out the back and I cried frustrated tears.”
New Zealand politicians were quick to condemn Key’s strange behavior. “As politicians our job is to make people feel safe at work, not bullied,” the Green Party’s Metieria Tureishe told the New Zealand Herald. “We should expect higher standards of behavior from our prime minister, not this weird hair-pulling.”
“It’s never OK to touch someone without their permission,” New Zealand human rights commissioner Jackie Blue said on her Facebook page. “Talking about what’s acceptable and what isn’t is a conversation worth having and one every New Zealander needs to be part of.”
Key won a decisive re-election victory in September, and is in his third term in office.